Whether it’s your current employer or the company(ies) you’ll be targeting in your next job search, the question of your value takes center stage. If you can’t answer the question posed by this post, you’re probably in trouble! Employers flat-out will not take the time and effort to figure it out for you.
Your Needs vs. Employer Needs
You need or want a new job, maybe a new direction involving a career change or an opportunity to advance in your profession. That’s what you’re after, but what about the employers you’re focusing on? More than likely, they don’t particularly care that you want to earn more money or move up the corporate ladder or whatever else your personal goal is.
So what do they care about or need? Probably one of the first items on their list is an employee who can contribute a lot more value than it will cost to hire and keep that person! In other words, someone who can contribute value from day one and quickly make a positive difference to the company’s success. That person might need a number of qualifications and qualities–motivating leader, enthusiastic team player, X number of years of solid experience in a given area, and so on.
The ultimate question still remains: Can you do the job that’s needed, do it well and (probably) quickly, in a way that validates the company’s initial decision to offer you the job?
How to Determine Your Value to Employers
I can’t begin to list here all the factors that could play into your value to employers, but the following is a small sampling:
- You have a realistic grasp of what you can bring to employers and are confident about your abilities in that regard. You don’t over-sell or under-sell yourself in interviews, for example.
- You do your homework ahead of time with regard to your competition and the market for your skills, expertise and knowledge-base. Among other things, that means you take the time to research what’s “out there” and honestly evaluate how you stack up against the competition. What do you have that they don’t?
- You also research the company you’re targeting, as well as its industry and its competitors. Then you assess how your qualifications and strengths fit into that picture. What are likely to be your greatest advantages and how can you make the most of them?
- You understand that value isn’t only about money. Yes, you want to earn as much as you can and the company wants to maximize its profitability, but that’s not all there is to your value. For instance, can you get a team of people who don’t much like each other or are territorial to work together effectively on a critical project? Not everyone can do that, so if you can, you just might have an edge.
- You are willing and able to put out a great effort to help the company achieve its goals, rather than counting the minutes until 5:00 p.m. every day. At the same time, you don’t want to provide that degree of commitment and dedication to an employer that won’t appreciate or reward it appropriately.
Good salespeople know that it’s about benefits (value) versus features (laundry list). When you’re engaged in a job search, the benefits you can bring to your next employer are critically important.
Have you ever had to listen for long to someone whose voice seemed in imminent danger of fading out completely or was annoyingly laced with “umms” or “you know” or other meaningless verbal fillers? If so, you can probably relate to an article I just read, ““Is This How You Really Talk?”” (in The Wall Street Journal online). Author Sue Shellenbarger states that “new research shows the sound of a person’s voice strongly influences how he or she is seen. The sound of a speaker’s voice matters twice as much as the content of the message….”
Poor Speaking Skills can Hurt Your Career
That’s right. Your weak speaking skills could hurt you. You might ask: Could my voice quality and/or other elements of my oral presentation really be throwing a huge speed-bump in the path of my career? According to Shellenbarger’s article, the answer is very possibly yes. For example, if you need to be perceived as assertive, a strong leader and so on, a quiet vocal delivery of your messages might undermine the impression you need to make on your audience. If that audience consists of people who can decide whether or not to offer you a job or a promotion, you definitely want to consider what you can do to improve the situation!
This is also true in other aspects of a job search or ongoing career management, including interviewing. When you obscure the delivery of your message through poor speaking skills, you could fail to gain the support of colleagues for critical initiatives, lose the respect of the team you are expected to manage or discourage an interviewer from giving you a chance at second-round/multiple interviews. The potential repercussions of poor speaking skills could add up to a long list by the time you’re done!
Do You Know If You Have a Speaking “Problem”?
You might think you have reasonably good speaking skills and can’t imagine how anything about your vocal delivery could negatively affect your ability to land a job or advance in your career. However, it’s not necessarily safe to assume you don’t have an issue with it just because no one has told you that you do. Friends, family, colleagues–many people hesitate to raise such a sensitive subject with someone they know. They might be afraid of hurting your feelings or making you angry at them if they do. What can you do to ensure that how you speak isn’t standing in the way of your career success?
Here are just a few tips you can try:
- Record yourself speaking and listen to it with your eyes closed, so you’re not distracted by visual elements around you. As much as possible, eliminate auditory distractions as well (find a quiet place).
- Ask someone whose judgment you trust to listen to you delivering a short presentation and provide candid feedback. Then remember not to “shoot the messenger”!
- Consider finding and working with a speech coach/consultant, especially if you have an important interview or on-the-job presentation scheduled down the road, to make sure you’re delivering the message effectively. (Don’t wait too long to do this, however; it can take time and practice.)
Importance of Non-Vocal Presentation Skills
In college, I had an instructor who frequently stroked his goatee while he was speaking to the class. This mannerism was so distracting that I had to avoid looking at him if I wanted to absorb the information he was presenting! I never had the nerve to mention it to him, and I don’t know if anyone else ever did, but I hope so.
Visual gestures can be a bad habit you’re unaware of. Try recording a video of yourself doing a presentation and watch it as objectively as you can to see if you’re using distracting gestures. You might just be glad you did!
Few people can do a zillion things at once, and even fewer can do them well. Career success and the actions that achieve it are just one example of that fact. You might consider yourself a super-multitasker, but I’m betting you don’t do it as well as you think. You only have a certain amount of energy (although some of you have more than others), not to mention a limited amount of time. Even the best of you can’t get more than 24 hours into a day.
To quote a well-known celebrity: “Energy is the essence of life. Every day you decide how you’re going to use it by knowing what you want and what it takes to reach that goal, and by maintaining focus.” (Oprah Winfrey, O Magazine, July 2003)
Career Success: Choose One Thing
A recent post on Quartz by Vickie Elmer, titled “Forget the long to-do lists and choose one thing to be good at,” indicates that focus is critical to success. She mentions a new book called The One Thing, by Gary Keller (of Keller Williams Real Estate) and Jay Papasan, and cites three principles contained in the book:
- Success is sequential, not simultaneous. [Keller] would ask [people] the focusing question: “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
- Nail your “one thing” by lunch. Make the most of your best productive time. Then you can look back at what you’ve accomplished and feel happy about it.
- Everyone blows it. The authors started out with a 400-page manuscript and whittled it down to about half–after being put on the spot by their publisher to “walk their talk.”
How Do You Sharpen Your Focus?
The above list gives a few clues. Here are a few more tips for job search and career success:
- Identify possible or probable interruptions, time-sucks, etc., and plan to avoid or postpone them as long as possible. If the likely culprit is a person, you might need to get creative about how you do this!
- Be realistic. If you’re at all like me, you start out with a list that you know (if you’re being honest with yourself), you’ll never get done in one day. That’s not only likely to be nonproductive (as Keller’s work indicates) but also to set you up for failure, which is a demotivating factor.
- Work on better prioritizing. If you know you can’t do it all, take a few minutes to decide what’s most critical. Move along to the less critical only when you’ve accomplished the highest-priority item.
Then reward yourself by acknowledging your successes and avoid beating yourself up for the times when you fall short of the target.
As much as I’m a fan of plans and planning in general–and nowhere more than in job search and career management–I have to admit that plans aren’t perfect or cast in stone. Sometimes they have to change, either because we see a need or because a change is forced on us.
When I started publishing this blog (which I think was in late 2011), I “planned” to do a blog post three times a week. I’d been reading that daily posts were even better, and some people were publishing multiple times in one day, but I knew I’d never hit that target! I figured three posts a week should be do-able–and so it was…some of the time.
Unfortunately, sometimes life got in the way, and there were entire weeks when I didn’t publish ONE post (last week being one of them). Gasp! Ah, well, super-blogger I’m obviously not.
Plan Job Searches with Some Slack
My take from all of this is that it’s not only okay but actually desirable to cut yourself some slack now and then in your job search and career management planning. You’ll probably run into days or even weeks when you’re up to your eyes in problems, unexpected demands on your time and energy, and so on.
Instead of kicking yourself because you fell down on the job and didn’t put things in motion that you’d planned to, take a step back and gain a longer-term perspective. Did you miss out on a dream job because you failed to do whatever it was? Unless your inaction cost you a desirable job opportunity, it probably wasn’t the crime of the century.
It Could Be Worse!
If the worst that happened was that you felt guilty about not staying 100% on track, relax. After all, things could be worse. As Scottish poet Robert Burns once said:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
(Translation: The best laid schemes of Mice and Men
oft go awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!)
At least it’s not likely that your off-plan action (or inaction) will cause you “grief and pain”!
At the rate websites proliferate today, you might have missed this new entry in the category of job search trends: Bright.com. I did! Until now, anyway. I actually started out reading an article on Fast Company, titled “5 Stupid Reasons You’re Underpaid–And How To Fix Them,” and the author said, ” Check out Glassdoor and Bright for background and talk to friends and colleagues in the field–knowing your worth is key to career planning.”
I’d heard of Glassdoor, but Bright? Not in terms of job search or anything else along those lines. I followed the link to the Bright.com website. While I have to say I don’t yet know anyone personally who has used Bright.com in his or her job search, I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of what I found.
Bright Labs–New Job Search Trend?
It seems that in 2012, Bright.com launched something called Bright Labs. Here’s an excerpt from their press release:
“Bright Labs is a bi-weekly updated set of interactive tools, infographics, and analyses on the current employment landscape. Bright’s team of data scientists utilizes data from social networks, stock prices and volumes, real estate and construction, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and a variety of other sources to create a holistic assessment of the employment market and to reveal trends and scientific findings. One of the cornerstones of Bright Labs is the Bright Employment Index, which tracks the overall job market and provides a monthly snapshot of fluctuations within any given industry.”
As if that didn’t sound impressive enough, here’s what the press release also says about a concept called The Bright Score, which the company came up with:
The company “has processed over 15 million job descriptions and more than two million resumes, all of which gives the site one of the most insightful and up-to-date perspectives on the jobs landscape. Bright.com has generated more than 20 million Bright Scores, used by job candidates to assess whether or not a job opening is the right fit and by talent recruiters and HR professionals to efficiently evaluate thousands of job applicants and find the most qualified candidates.”
Technology Taking Over Your Job Search?
I’m full of questions today and not much in the way of answers so far. But enough about Bright.com! What does this say about job search trends?
Some people would consider it just more evidence that technology is taking over job searching, and they might have a point. The Internet, social media and other technology trends have had a huge impact on the way many of you conduct your job search–not to mention how you perform your job once you actually land one. It has certainly become important–if not essential–that you develop a reasonable level of competency in using technology tools to manage your career and the various job changes you either have gone through or will go through during that career.
At the moment, however, one critical point about technology and your job search comes to my mind: Technical tools don’t hire other technical tools–people are what need to be hired, and once hired, they have to work with other people. So somewhere, at some point, people need to connect with people. Technology can’t do it all–and I suspect that some of what it can do is not as hugely superior to human interactions as its proponents would like to claim.
As I’ve said before, I’m definitely not anti-technology. I’d just like to see a better balance between it and the people it’s supposed to serve–especially when situations such as your job search are involved.
You’ve probably read one or more articles about how to “work a room” and talk to as many people as possible in a networking event when you’re conducting a job search. I know I’ve seen a lot of them published. However, maybe it’s not so much of a numbers game after all. At least, that’s the premise of a recent article by Eric Holtzclaw, “Why Networking Doesn’t Work.”
Selective Networking–What It Is and Is Not
Selective networking is my term for it. Here’s part of what Holtzclaw says about it:
“Remember six degrees of separation? With the introduction and widespread use of social media and other technologies, a study from 2012 shows that these days, it’s more like four degrees. The more people you know–really know–the more likely you are to make that important connection you need to take your career, company, or venture to the next level.”
According to Holtzclaw, self-described as an introvert, it’s important to start by considering what you might be able to do for the people you meet that would be valuable to them. He believes there’s no point to collecting business cards by the gross if it doesn’t produce any useful results or constantly increasing the number of your LinkedIn connections “unless you can establish a meaningful relationship with these new connections.”
Networking with Prospects & Non-Prospects
Often the advice will be to focus your attention on spending time with people who are clearly in a position to do something useful for you. However, besides sounding more than a little self-serving and self-obsessed, this approach could cause you to miss a good opportunity to connect indirectly with someone who could add value to your job search. As Holtzclaw puts it, “A non-prospect may be just as important to your future needs as a prospect because they may connect you with someone or something you need.”
The trick, probably, is to find out whether that possibility exists without spending an inordinate amount of time talking to people who don’t have the ability to offer value for your job search either directly or indirectly.
With regard to the quantity versus quality issue in networking, Holtzclaw believes that if he focuses on meeting and having “a meaningful conversation with only about five people at every event…or for each day of a conference,” he can line up sufficient new contacts to arrange for a day of meetings and “get to know each of them more deeply within a couple of weeks of the initial introduction.”
Follow-Up is Key to Networking Success
If you meet X number of people at a networking event and it’s a manageable number to get to know better, you still haven’t done all you need to do as a job seeker who’s serious about achieving a successful networking outcome. Holtzclaw cites Quinetha Frasier of First Born Group as firmly believing that if you don’t meet with someone within 10 days of the first contact, it wasn’t in the cards…not going to happen.
So you need to choose your number, network purposefully with those individuals and follow up to arrange a meeting in 10 days or less. Hopefully, that follow-up meeting will pave the way for a longer-term, mutually beneficial relationship that will show positive results for your job search.
If everything you publish about yourself as a professional–and that includes your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, and more–makes you sound pretty much like hundreds or thousands of other people…your brand is not a brand. It will not make you stand out to prospective employers as a promising candidate for the job you want. Without finding a clear way to distinguish yourself and convey your desirable value to those employers, you will blend in with your competition the way trees blend into a forest–at least, they do if they are basically all the same kind of tree.
Brand Differentiation, Not Cliches
In a recent article called “Passionate, Creative Thinker Seeks Job: How to Fix a Personal Brand That’s A Total Cliche,” author Nacie Carson points out just some of the terms people use to describe themselves that have become meaningless cliches. “Everyone is a passionate, hard worker and creative thinker.” Carson then offers a bad news-good news take on the problem. “It’s hard to truly establish competitive differentiation when you share the same brand descriptors as a thousand of your closest competitors. But there’s hope for your generic professional brand. Those very same overused terms can be as a starting point for developing a deeper, more accurate, and more memorable brand differentiation.”
Carson’s solution for cliched brand descriptors that make your brand a cliche is to use a “why chain.” The solution is to “start with a statement about yourself as a professional using one of your current descriptors, like ‘I am an excellent communicator,’ and then ask yourself ‘Why?’ Why are you an excellent communicator?” Whatever your answer to that is, you need to drill deeper and ask why and keep asking why until you reach the essence of your competitive differentiation. Of course, as Carson makes clear, just defining your descriptors more clearly is only part of the battle. You need to make sure your actions match the brand and communicate it compellingly.
What Your Resume & Other Job Search Tools Can & Can’t Do
If you have a strong, well-defined brand in your head, you want to make sure it’s reflected appropriately in your job search tools (aka career marketing documents and the like). You can’t fall back on the lazy man’s (or woman’s) answer, which is to load up your resume, cover letter or LinkedIn profile with phrases that don’t present your brand in a way that will catch the attention of employers. Even an otherwise good resume can’t overcome a poorly defined brand or one that’s not well communicated–in other words, if you’ve done great things for employers that could reinforce your unique brand, those contributions need to be presented clearly and consistently in line with your brand.
I “preach” this to clients all the time–or so it seems. I don’t want them to have me manufacture good points about them in their materials. I do want them to think hard about what it is that makes them special…and especially valuable to employers. I believe everyone has at least some of this. Sometimes they just have to dig a little deeper to find it and bring it out.
If you have been shying away from the whole concept of branding, now might be a good time to accept that if you don’t consciously brand yourself, you will do it unconsciously or–worse yet–let others do it for you. The result is not likely to be a happy one. Acknowledge that you are special in a way that can benefit potential employers, and then work to communicate that to them. There aren’t any shortcuts to success in this or in just about anything else that’s worth having and doing.